Salem Press provides an inventor resource for a new generation with its four-volume biographical encyclopedia Great Lives from History: Inventors and Inventions. An emphasis on modern incarnations of technological advances underpin 409 essays covering the varied contributions of 413 ancient, medieval and modern inventors. According to the editor, "the term ‘invention’ was defined to include not only mechanical and other physical devices but also processes (e.g. the Bessemer process for making steel), software (such as Grace Hopper's invention of COBOL) and systems such as those applied to business management."
The articles, arranged alphabetically by subject's surname, range from 3 to 5 pages in length. Most entries are organized around biographical data including early life, work and impact on the tradition of creation and engineering. Articles are supplemented with suggestions for further reading, annotated bibliographies and cross-references to other articles in the volumes.
The encyclopedia stresses accessibility. Entries include a key to pronunciation of difficult names. There are a number of entry points for each article. Each of the four volumes includes a complete list of contents and an index organized by invention. Other access points include the inventors contained in all volumes sorted chronologically, with geographical and subject indexing as well. This sort of comprehensive indexing increases the usability of the set. An appendix to Volume 4 includes a history of U.S. patent law, which affects many of the technical accomplishments of modern history. The current requirement for a working model, for example, might not have earned Alexander Graham Bell the patent for the telephone.
Coverage in the areas of computer science, electronics and electrical engineering appears particularly strong. The articles nicely present scientific knowledge as an evolving entity supported by a shared body of mathematical and scientific knowledge. Discussions of computer topics are sophisticated enough to engage students, yet focus more on conceptual advances than on particular innovations in hardware or software.
Aside from some pull-out boxes, the text of Inventors and Inventions is rather unrelieved with minimal illustration, usually one black-and-white head shot per entry. The indexes provided in each of the four volumes emphasize an important supplementary role for a resource like Inventors and Inventions. The encyclopedia would be invaluable for classroom teachers identifying "like" subjects for research projects and round-robin or jigsaw work. Salem Press seems to recognize the realities of the classroom and school library ecologies and includes access to an "online subscription" with local administration for networked access to a digital version of the same text. Since online access is bundled with purchase of print resources, their usefulness is expanded beyond a single reader. Recommended for secondary school and public libraries.